Skates and rays are very closely related to sharks. They're flatter in shape, which makes them well suited for life on the sea-floor. Their mouth, nostrils and gills are located on the underside of their body. While their eyes are on top.
Skates and rays spend a lot of time buried in the sand. Either hiding from predators or lying in wait for unsuspecting prey. With their gills and nostrils buried in sand you may be wondering how they breathe? All sharks have two small breathing holes found near the eyes. These are known as spiracles. When buried, skates and rays rely on these to provide them with oxygen.
There are over 600 species of skate and ray worldwide. From the graceful Manta Ray, the largest ray in the world reaching up to 9m. Electric rays that can deliver a powerful shock. And the rostrum wielding sawfish, which uses its saw-like snout to stun its prey.
Australia’s Coffin Ray can pack a 200 volt kick to fight off predators. They're able to emit up to 50 shocks in 10 minutes!
Identifying electric rays, sawfish and guitarfish, is usually quite straightforward. But other rays, such as stingrays, butterfly rays and devil rays can be trickier.
There are some subtle physical differences but the tail may provide the best clue. A skate’s tail tends to be stockier, whereas a ray’s is slender and whip-like. Some rays have a stinging spine on the tail, which skates don't have.
Another key difference is that skates reproduce by laying eggs. Whereas rays give birth to live young.
BECOME A CITIZEN SCIENTIST - help us search the shores for washed up shark and skate eggcases! Eggcase hunting is great fun for all the family and you’ll be helping shark conservation at the same time. Visit our Great Eggcase Hunt Project to find out more.
In the UK, species with long snouts are often known as skates. While those with shorter snouts are called rays. But this isn’t scientifically accurate and can be confusing. For example the Thornback Ray is called a ray but it's actually a skate! To avoid confusion, we refer to skates and rays by their common British names.
There are around 18 species of skates and rays that are regularly found in UK waters. Only 8 are common. We've also had a few reports of vagrant Giant Devil Rays, Common Eagle Rays and Pelagic Stingrays.
Studies show that large, flat-bodied coastal species are the most vulnerable to extinction. In the UK, larger skates (such as the White Skate and Flapper Skate) have become some of the most threatened species in British waters. Like sharks they're vulnerable because they:
One of the most endangered species in the UK is the Common Skate (or Flapper Skate). This is the largest skate in the world - its wingspan can reach almost 3m. Once common around the British Isles it's now absent from much of its former range. Largely due to unsustainable fishing throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. It was recently discovered that the Common Skate is in fact 2 different species! It's now known as the Blue Skate and the Flapper Skate. So, their numbers are an even greater cause for concern.
There are many ways you can help. From getting involved in our projects, becoming a member or adding your voice to one of our campaigns. Find out more by visiting our Get Involved page.
Our ID guides below provide a rapid and accurate key for identifying 21 species of skate and ray found in British and Irish waters. Check out our resources page for more ID guides, posters and leaflets.
Please note: all our resources are created for personal use only. All content (including illustrations) in our ID Guides are copyrighted to the Shark Trust/Marc Dando.